When I was in high school, I had to go to the social security office to get a social security card. I don't remember why, only that I must've been old enough to drive myself, because I went on my own. I remember it as being singularly depressing. The office was small and badly-lit and crowded with lower-income folks, many of them with small children in tow. I felt out of place and alone, and I had to wait for a long time.
The first stop in the journey that is changing your name is the social security office. Or maybe it's getting married. Then again, it could be meeting a nice person whose last name you'd think about joining yourself to. But you've already heard those other stories about the nice man, so we'll just stick to this bureaucratic part of getting married.
Last week, my mom was in town a day early to assist us with our first Thanksgiving. She and I drove across town to the social security office. I had a ball of dread in my stomach, but the empty parking lot gave me hope. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad. Maybe it would even be quick!
The office was closed. As of this past January, the office closes at noon on Wednesday. I made plans to go on Friday, but checked the website first, where I learned that they would be closed to catch up on their backlog.
Instead, this Monday, I took my lunch break to drive over there again. I was relieved to see a full parking lot, though I'd already double-checked the hours online. But then I realized that the parking lot was too full; in fact, there were no spaces at all. There were even vehicles blatantly just blocking others in. A sign said that there was additional parking on the next street over. However, that street was the entrance to an apartment complex, and all along the road there were big signs saying that it was a private street and you'd better not park there or they would tow your butt quicker than you can say "second new deal." Also, there was a line of people going out the door. It occurred to me that lunchtime on the first Monday of the month was maybe not the best time to go to the social security office, unless you just wanted to make a lot of new friends.
I decided that I would get up early the next day and be there when they opened. I would get the very best of parking spaces and smile at the friendly government workers through the glass as they unlocked the door and let me in.
When I pulled up Tuesday morning, fifteen minutes before opening time, again I saw the line out the door, though it was snaking the opposite direction. The parking lot was again completely full, though I did find a small sort of spot that was not really a parking space, but was big enough for a hatchback, so I took it. Then I went to take my place in line. As I was walking up, I saw a large woman with a cane getting out of her car, and I increased my speed to beat her there. I felt a little bad, but this is what the social security office does to you. The weather was clear and not too cold, so I settled in with my cup of coffee and a book I'd downloaded to my phone.
The line was long, but it did move. They clearly have a good system in place to get people in and out quickly. I suspect part of the system is the small parking lot, which keeps people circling the lot until someone else leaves.
Once you got in, you waited with a private security officer until you were directed to a lady at a kiosk. She asked what you were there for, made sure you had the right forms, and then gave you a number to wait. At that point, you were to sit in one of the many chairs, most of which were full. The private security officer took a break from directing people to tell us how the whole take-a-number-wait-for-it-to-be-called worked. I guess some people get confused. Or maybe they don't listen, like the teenager next to me who was trying to make time with the girl on his other side.
After twenty minutes or so, I was sent to Blue Hall, window 6, where a man waited to help me. There was a sign in front of him that said he was deaf, so I should speak slowly for him to read my lips. This threw me off my game, so I just wordlessly handed over my name change application. Then I started getting out all the various other things I'd brought. The website had said to bring multiple forms of ID, and I'd brought my passport, my driver's license, and my old social security card. Finally, I pulled out my marriage certificate, which he took while leaving my three forms of ID sitting on the counter. He clacked at the computer for a while, then printed out a sheet and pointed to another sign that said to verify the information. I checked it and nodded. A managerly-looking guy walked by and signed something to him. I felt oddly pleased that he was able to find work in a nice steady government job.
He gave me a receipt, and I was done. I walked out the door at 9:30, and there was no line at all. Still no parking spaces.
Next stop, the DMV.